Objection 7: Why Didn’t God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him?
“If God knows the future, why did he create people whom he knew would never turn to him and who would therefore end up in hell?” I asked. “Couldn’t he have created only those whom he knew would follow him and simply not created those whom he knew would reject him? That option would seem to be much more humane than hell.”
“It depends on God’s goal,” said Moreland. “If God had chosen to create just a handful of four, six, or seven people, maybe he could have only created those people who would go to heaven. The problem is that once God stars to create more people, it becomes more difficult to just create the people who would choose him and not create the people who wouldn’t … Because one of the reasons God put us here is to give us a chance to affect other people.”
“The simple fact of the matter is that we are impacted by observing people. Suppose, for example, that when I was a little boy God gave my parents the choice to move to Illinois as opposed to staying in Missouri. Let’s say there was a Christian neighbor [in Illinois] who was a hypocrite, and I observed this man and chose because of his life to say ‘no’ to the gospel the rest of my life. Now suppose that people at work looked at how obnoxious I was and five people became followers of Christ because of my bad example of what a non-Christian life looks like… we get one person lost — me — but five a redeemed.
“On the other hand, suppose God chooses not to give the of a new job to my dad and we stay in Missouri. I might have a track coach who was a Christian and who pours his life into me and I end up choosing to follow God because of that. But because my Christian life is not really what it ought to be, five people are influenced away from Christ.
Do you see? It’s a Back to the Future scenario [i.e. any tiny change sets off a cascade of other changes]. (p.259-260)
Well, this scenario is all good and fine, but there are problems with it. First, the fact that small external changes and influences in a person’s life leads to eternal salvation or damnation seems unfair. In the “goes to Illinois” scenario, more people are saved, but because God knows the future and chose that job path for Moreland’s father, it ends up badly for Moreland. When Moreland gets to heaven, will God tell him – “sorry, kid, I could’ve chosen a different situation for your father, and that would’ve resulted in your salvation, but I decided to write you off and save more people instead”. Over and over, the Christian apologists try to paint a picture that everyone who isn’t a Christian somehow vehemently rejects and hates God. Okay, to be fair, maybe Moreland’s assumes that a person is still fully responsible for their conversion regardless of external influences, and that people who aren’t Christians start down a path that leads to total depravity. (I’d disagree with that, of course.) Further, in the next objection, Moreland will tell us that “If all a person needed was a little bit more time to come to Christ, then God would extend their time on this earth to give them that chance. So there will be nobody who just needed a little more time.” (p.262) So, there will never be anybody who “just needs a little more time”, but there will be people who would’ve turned to Christ if only they had slightly different influences in their lives. Seems contradictory.
Some other criticisms of Moreland’s claims are that God could create puppets or angels to play roles in people’s lives. They could play the role of “good example Christian” or “bad non-Christian”. Angels could even pretend to be human missionaries, always setting a good example. God could also give Christians extra strength to do the right things (like taking-away Ted Haggard’s gay desires, transforming him into a positive role-model). By creating these influences in peoples lives, then, people would make different choices. That might seem like manipulation, but can humans really be held responsible for their conversion decision when those external influences (the hypocritical Christian, the good track coach) are random? Additionally, God could also do miracles, send angels to speak to people, etc. There are billions of people around the globe following false religions that would respond to these signs. So, there are plenty of things God could do to influence people towards Christian salvation. It’s erroneous to claim that God is somehow doing all he can to get people into heaven. Moreland wants us to believe that the current situation is somehow finely tuned and chosen by God, but that just doesn’t seem credible.
“There is another part of this, which has to do with how the soul is created. There’s a view that the soul comes into existence at conception and is in some way passed on by the parents. In other words, soulish potentialities are contained in the parent’s egg and sperm. It’s called traducianism. This means my parents created my soul in the act of reproduction. Consequently, I could not have had different parents. That means, then, that the only way God could make me is if my entire ancestral lineage had preceded me, because different grandparents mean different parents and thus different materials for the soul… In other words, God would be balancing alternative [ancestral] chains and not just alternative people. (p.260-261)
Ignoring the fact that this sounds like complete mumbo-jumbo, Moreland conveniently ignores the fact that God has divine power. The only way to make Moreland is to have his exact set of ancestors? Right. Moreland believes that God impregnated a virgin, but couldn’t divinely intervene to actually make his parent’s egg or sperm different? It seems that Moreland likes to believe in miracles in some cases, and then pretend that God’s hands are tied in other cases.
“When God is making these judgments, his purpose is not to keep as many people out of hell as possible. His goal is to get as many people into heaven as possible.” (p.261)
And how does Moreland know what God’s goals are? Additionally, if God wanted to get as many people into heaven as possible, I can think of quite a few ways to increase the number of converts – miracles, angels, etc to inspire Christians and convert the members of the world’s false religions. Heck, no one in the Americas had heard of Christianity until Columbus. At this point, only about 1/3rd of humanity is Christian. And whether you’re Christian or not seems to be heavily influenced by where on the planet you were born.
Objection 8: Why Doesn’t God Give People a Second Chance?
The Bible says explicitly that people are destined to die once and to then face judgment. Yet if God is really loving, why wouldn’t he give people a second chance after death to make the decision to follow him and go to heaven?
“If people tasted hell, wouldn’t that give them a strong motivation to change their minds?” I asked.
“This question assumes God didn’t do everything he could do before people died, and I reject that,” Moreland said. “God does everything he can to give people a chance, and there will be not a single person who will be able to say to God, ‘If you had just not allowed me to die prematurely, if you’d given me another twelve months, I know I would have made that decision.’ (p.261-262)
It seems that Moreland likes to assert things to be true that he can’t possibly know are true. Moreland anticipates that these questions can be problematic for him, so he simply asserts with confidence that “such and such is most definitely true”. In this case, he asserts that God did everything he could, that people wouldn’t change their minds if given a little more time. This “wouldn’t change their minds” claim seems like a strange argument to make right after Moreland claimed in the last section that influences like a hypocritical Christian or the track coach can change people’s minds in a “Back to the Future” cascade of changes.
Additionally, Moreland changed the actual question. The question was, “Why doesn’t God give people a chance to change their minds after they die?” Moreland replied with “God does everything he can to give people a chance, and there will be not a single person who [would’ve converted before they died if given more time]”. We weren’t talking about what they would’ve done if given more time on earth, we were talking about what they would’ve done in the afterlife if given the chance to convert. And God isn’t “doing everything he can to give people a chance” if he doesn’t allow them to convert after death.
That only dealt with part of the question, however. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Wouldn’t death and the awareness of the presence or absence of God after you die be a very motivating thing for people?”
“Yes, it would, but in a negative way. First, you’ve got to realize that the longer people live separated from God, the less likely they are able to exercise their free choice and trust him. This is why most people who come to Christ do so when they’re young. The longer you live with a bad habit, the harder it is to turn that habit around. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder. (p.262)
Moreland’s response is rather muddled here. In response to the question of whether heaven and hell would motivate people to convert, Moreland responded with “yes, it would motivate them in a negative way”, but then went on to formulate an argument that people would not be influenced to submit to God anyway because they’ve lived with the “bad habit” of rejecting God for so long.
“Besides, that would make life before death utterly irrelevant.” (p.262)
So, if God has the choice between (A) allowing people to submit to God in the afterlife, thereby making our earthly life/choices irrelevant, and (B) putting people in hell for eternity. It’s better that God sticks with “A” because it would be an awful, awful thing to render our earthly choices irrelevant. A far better option is that people stay in hell for eternity. Isn’t that obvious?
Why did he create [people] on earth for seventy-five years and let them die and then put them in the incubation period [where they could choose salvation] if it was the incubation period that they really needed in the first place? Here’s the truth, Lee: this life is the incubation period! (p.263)
Well, people aren’t making fully-informed decisions about religion while on earth. Making decisions in the afterlife, on the other hand, would apparently be a bit more informed. Of course, this is one of my major problems with Christianity – there are major things God could do to reveal Christianity as the true religion above all other religions. This has never been done. Billions of people will pay because of this. Yeah, I know apologists like to claim that God gives “enough evidence”, but I don’t believe that’s true, and I think that’s something other religions could also claim about their own religion.
“The next thing you have to keep in mind is if people saw the judgment seat of God after death, it would be so coercive that they would no longer have the power of free choice. Any ‘decision’ they made would not be a real genuine free choice; it would be totally coerced… They’d be making a prudent ‘choice’ to avoid judgment only. (p.263)
I think that’s a reasonable statement, and I agree that the way to find out if someone is truly a “good person” is to see how they act when they believe there are no consequences. Of course, most of us are raised to believe that we will face divine consequences. So, we’re not entirely free from the “being a Christian to avoid consequences” influence. (Isn’t that the whole point of Pascal’s Wager?) Consequences would be a bit more obvious and immediate in the afterlife, however. Regardless of those factors, though, there’s still all kinds of problems involving the whole “become a Christian” = “submitting to God”. There are plenty of good Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and nonbelievers. There’s a critical lack of evidence for Christianity. Moreland presupposes that everyone “should know” that Christianity is the true religion.
“I’ll suggest one more thing. God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he’s there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.” (p.263)
I disagree with this. I’d say that the evidence for all religions (including Christianity) is pretty poor, but apologists (or all religions) use their powers of rhetoric to make all religions seem possible or plausible. They’re not so great that people can’t see through them, though. Reading Moreland’s statement about the evidence for God’s existence could easily be uttered by any cult member about their cult leader. If it seems that their cult leader isn’t God – that’s all part of the balance, so that only the true believers will submit.
There’s also something slightly strange about the whole formulation. God doesn’t want to be ‘too obvious’ or else people will have to believe in him. But, there are actually two different definitions to “believing in God”. The first definition means simply “knowing he exists”. The second definition means “obeying, submitting, relying on God”. It’s not a violation of free will to make it obvious that God exists. It would be a violation of free-will if God forced people to obey, submit, and rely on God. In fact, Jesus himself pointed this out:
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” James 2:18-20
What Jesus is pointing out here is that mere “knowledge” of Gods existence doesn’t mean obeying God. If the Bible is true, then God appeared plenty of times to Biblical characters (for example, Adam in the Garden of Eden, or Moses), yet that didn’t stop them from sinning. And, as Jesus pointed out – knowing God exists doesn’t stop demons from disobeying God. Moreland’s formulation that God needs to maintain ambiguity about his very existence is a little bit like saying “We have to keep people ignorant about the usefulness and dangers of vaccines because we want parents to make a totally free decision about whether or not to use vaccines”. It’s not a real decision if it’s based on ignorance.
Objection 9: Isn’t Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell?
“Wouldn’t reincarnation be a rational way for a loving God to give people a fresh start so that they might repent the next time around and he wouldn’t have to send them to hell?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that be preferable to hell?” (p.264)
I have to agree with Strobel here. In the past, I’ve certainly thought this.
“Remember, we don’t decide what’s true based on what we life or don’t like. We have to consider the evidence. I don’t know any other way to decide whether something’s true except by looking at the evidence,” came Moreland’s reply. (p.264)
Good job, Moreland. You dodged another question. Strobel asked if reincarnation would be a better alternative to hell, and you tried to answer the question, “does reincarnation happen?”
Strobel: “Yes,” I said, “but isn’t there evidence for reincarnation — specifically, individuals who have memories of prior lives or even speak in languages that they wouldn’t otherwise know?” (p.264)
And Strobel takes the bait – completely forgetting his first question about whether reincarnation would be a more just system, and discussing, instead, the evidence for reincarnation.
Moreland: “I think the evidence for reincarnation is weak for several reasons,” he said. “For example, it’s incoherent… What if you said, ‘J.P. Moreland is in the other room and guess what? He’s an ice cube.’ Most people would say, ‘that can’t be J.P. Moreland, because if there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he’s human… reincarnation says that I could come back as a dog, as an amoeba — heck, I don’t know why I couldn’t come back as an ice cube. If that’s true, what’s the difference between being J.P. Moreland and anything else? There’s nothing essential to me… being human is essential to me. (p.264-265)
Uh. Well, okay – I guess Moreland can make an argument that there is no “core” part of himself which could be both human and an ice cube. However, people who believe in reincarnation would claim that ‘being an ice cube’ isn’t a part of it. Further, Moreland’s claim about “Most people would say, ‘that can’t be J.P. Moreland, because if there’s one thing I know about him, it’s that he’s human” is hardly a decent counterargument against the existence of reincarnation. People don’t see those kinds of permutations in everyday life, but that doesn’t mean souls couldn’t move between, say, a dog and a human. (Not that I believe they do. I’m just pointing out the lunacy of Moreland’s argument.) But, getting away from Moreland’s absurd “ice cube argument against reincarnation”, reincarnation could take the form of souls moving from animals to humans (but never “ice cubes”), or reincarnation could mean that humans are always reincarnated as humans. In the later case, humans who die as non-believers are reborn as humans again to be given a second chance – maybe this time with the “good track coach” as a childhood influence. That idea certainly isn’t incoherent.
Moreland: “Another reason I don’t believe in reincarnation is because most of these evidences you’ve suggested — things like supposed memories of past lives — can be explained better by other means.” (p.265)
That’s nice, but it seems that Moreland has permanently derailed the discussion about whether reincarnation would be a better alternative to hell.
“Finally, I don’t believe in reincarnation because there’s an expert on this question, and he’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the only person who died, rose from the dead, and spoke authoritatively on the question. And Jesus says reincarnation is false, and that there’s one death and after that comes the judgment. (p.265)
And, Moreland still can’t get around to answering the actual question.
“It’s ironic,” I pointed out, “that many atheists embrace Jesus as having been a great teacher, and yet he’s the one who had the most to say about hell.” (p.265)
Personally, I don’t really understand why people think Jesus was such a great teacher. I think most people say this simply because Jesus is so venerated in our culture, so they blindly say he was a great teacher – as if the idea simply seeped into their brains. Just like people have to say Einstein was smart and Shakespeare was a great writer even though they know nothing about Einstein’s or Shakespeare’s actual work. It’s just a “known”, so they don’t need any firsthand experience to make those statements.
The reality is that Jesus has some nice thing to say (e.g. the Beatitudes) that are akin to “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. He had some teachings about “do unto others” which was formulated by other people centuries before Jesus lived. (Some say that Jesus formulation in the affirmative is better than other writers formulation in the negative.) He had a lot of anti-materialism, pro-missionary, don’t-plan-for-the-future / plan-for-riches-in-heaven teachings that everyone seems to ignore. He was very angry with the religious establishment of the day. He had some teachings about “let he who is without sin throw the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”, and “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword”, which are dubious teachings which can be subjectively and selectively applied. (Oddly, Jesus was teaching people not to stone the prostitute – a punishment advocated by God in the Old Testament. Was Jesus advocating ignoring God’s law?) Strongly applied, they would mean the end of all legal systems, making yourself a glutton for violence and theft, and hard-core passivism that’s incompatible with national defense. I guess I’m just not that impressed with his teachings.
“Yes,” said Moreland, “and remember this: the evidence is that Jesus and his followers were virtuous people… If you want to know whether hell is ultimately fair, you ask Jesus. And here’s the thing: he saw no problem with the doctrine.” (p.266)
In short, when faced with the question of “wouldn’t reincarnation be better”, Moreland replies with: that’s not the way God did it, God is just, therefore, reincarnation would not be better. Uh huh.
“I think we’re on thin ice when we compare our moral sentiments and moral intuitions with Jesus’. We’re saying we have greater insight into what’s fair and what isn’t than he does. And I think that’s not the kind of arena we want to step into.” (p.266)
Are you’re brains turned off yet? Where your thoughts deviate from the Biblical teachings, you’re wrong, so you might as well stop thinking. It’s a bizarre argument to use Jesus to legitimize Christian teachings.
“For those who don’t know Christ, [hell] should motivate them to redouble their efforts to seek him and find him.” (p.267)
Kind of a chicken and the egg, problem, isn’t it? If you already accept the existence of hell, then you already believe in the reality of Christianity. Anyway, isn’t that exactly the “hell is a negative motivation” thing that Moreland complained about earlier – that people who convert out of a fear of hell are just doing it to avoid judgment?
For those of us who know him, [hell] should cause us to redouble out efforts to extend his message of mercy and grace to those who need it. (p.267)
This is one of the sad aspects of Christianity – it puts people in a position where they feel they need to save everyone for fear of their eternal damnation. I remember Carlton Pearson (a former fundamentalist preacher) talking about how it was exhausting to constantly try to save people around him. It was depressing to think that he couldn’t possibly save everyone. He eventually came to the belief that God saves everyone – which alleviated his mind. But, it’s a sad, sisyphean task for Christians (at least, if they are so fundamentalist they they believe only Christians are saved, everyone else goes to hell). And God doesn’t have their back. He isn’t performing the miracles that could really convince the non-believer. Apologists would explain that away as ‘God keeping a delicate balance between showing and hiding his existence’, but it’s really just a symptom of being another false religion.
“And we need to keep the right perspective through it all. Remember that hell will forever be a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice. It is a quarantine where God says two important things: ‘I respect freedom of choice enough to where I won’t coerce people, and I value my image-bearers so much that I will not annihilate them.'” (p.267)
Decisions based on ignorance and ambiguity are not real decisions. And keeping people alive in torment is not mercy. (I wonder if Moreland keeps his family pets alive and in pain long after they should’ve been “put to sleep”. Does he think people euthanize their pets because they don’t love them enough?)
Was hell the only option open to God? Is it just and moral? Is the doctrine logically consistent? Clearly, Jesus thought it was. And I believed that Moreland’s analysis overall, was sufficient to knock down hell as an obstacle. (p.268)
The whole “Jesus is okay with hell” method of argument is rather muddled. If you are questioning Christianity in the first place, then Jesus’ views on doctrine cannot be used to resolve the issue.
Popping [a taped interview I had with D.A. Carson] into my tape player, I fast forwarded to some remarks that seemed to be an apt conclusion for the afternoon:
Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn’t believe the right stuff. They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion. (p.269)
Well, I guess that’s one way to make yourself feel better about hell: demonize everyone as totally depraved. It’s a very binary type of thinking: at the moment of death, there are two types of people – good Christians who have submitted to God and go to heaven, and evil depraved people who hate God and curse him with every breath. Does this seem even remotely like the world we live in?
Next: Objection #7: Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence